The Only Thing That Matters
Read – Philippians 3:1-11
Key Verse – But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7 NKJV).
Key Thought – Knowing and trusting Christ is the only thing that matters.
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand. (Getty, Keith and Townsend, Stuart, “In Christ Alone”)
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7 NKJV).
In this passage, Paul described the only thing that matters – Jesus Christ.
He is the only source of joy.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe (Philippians 3:1 NKJV).
He was repeating himself. Repetition is a vital tool in learning. Paul had told them this before, and he did not apologize for his repetition now, but rather explained that it was worth repeating, for it was a good safeguard to them to hear it again.
As a teacher and preacher of the gospel, I am encouraged by this. All Bible teachers ought to bear in mind that repeating the truth of the gospel should never become tedious for us, for it is a safeguard against other “gospels” making inroads.
We run into problems when we feel like we have to constantly come up with something new and fresh. Such thinking sends formerly trustworthy preachers over the cliff of false teaching all too often. So if you’re privileged to preach and teach the Bible, don’t hesitate to repeat the important truths of Scripture, remembering that doing so is an important safeguard for your hearers.
The specific instruction Paul repeated, unapologetically, was to rejoice in the Lord. Throughout this study in Philippians we’ve seen Paul returning again and again to his theme, “joy.” Some sixteen times in four chapters, Paul mentions joy or rejoicing, and encourages us toward it. Here at the beginning of chapter 3 he repeats it again, and here he makes a very important point about it – the joy he encouraged the Philippians toward was a joy that is only found in the Lord.
Perhaps the Philippians needed to have this repeatedly stressed to them. Most of us do, don’t we? We have every reason to rejoice in the Lord, and yet how often do we find ourselves getting all thumb sucky and down in the dumps?
– If we had even a tiny glimpse of what is ours “in the Lord” we would be leaping for joy.
– If we could spend just a millisecond in the presence of the One who died for us, our joy would know no bounds.
– If we could be transported from this sin deadened and sick world onto the streets of the New Jerusalem… if our eyes could see it for only a minute, we would weep tears of joy that would never stop. We would know joy unspeakable and full of glory. The half has never yet been told!
Paul repeatedly told these Philippians to rejoice, because they needed to hear it over and over and over again. In the midst of whatever pressed in on them from their world… their culture… their circumstance… they needed to be reminded again and again that what they had in the Lord… who they were in the Lord… was a cause for endless rejoicing… endless joy. One commentator wrote, “The cure for discouragement is to rivet one’s attention on the Lord and rejoice in Him.” (Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 659.)
So we are to rejoice, but we are also to note that the only true source of joy is in the Lord.It is only and always because of Jesus Christ, and what we are and have in Him, that we can rejoice.
If you have never been saved, there is no sense looking for joy. You need to look for Jesus first. You need to be born again. You need to become a Christian before you can hope to find joy in the Lord.
And when you ARE in Him – REJOICE in it!
He is ALL you need. Nothing needs added.
From a wonderfully high and joyous thought, Paul immediately drops down to a dark and somber one. There are many voices you should not listen to. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation (Philippians 3:2 NKJV)!
He was warning them against the legalists who taught that obeying the law and being circumcised was a necessary thing for salvation. This crowd was a constant problem for Paul’s ministry, and for those who sought to serve Christ in the early church. Whereas the gospel was Christ alone by faith alone, these guys were always there to say, “That’s all fine and good, as long as you’re circumcised as well”, or “Faith is what it’s all about, for sure, as long as you also remember you have to obey the law in order to be saved.”
Now anytime I come upon the subject of “legalism,” I feel the need to clarify. Legalism (a word which does not appear in the Bible, by the way) is a term describing what these guys were doing – adding some requirement or requirements to the gospel… teaching that there is something other than placing faith in Christ that is necessary for salvation. Those last two words are key. The only proper use of the term legalism is in relation to SALVATION. The legalist teaches that IN ORDER TO BE SAVED, you must do certain things… obey certain laws… follow a certain set of rules.
It is not legalism to teach that Christians should live holy lives… that believers should turn from sin… that followers of Christ should strive always to live the ten commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. It is sadly common to hear Christians in our day cry “legalism” whenever they hear a preacher preach such things. But that’s not legalism, it’s just Bible! It becomes legalism only when it is taught as a requirement for salvation.
And that’s what these guys were teaching – keeping the law and being circumcised were requirements for salvation.
Now Paul did not pull his punches. He unhesitatingly told his readers the truth about false teachers. It is thought by some to be unbecoming for a minister of the gospel to be so blunt about other preachers. If I stand before you and mention that Catholicism is not Biblical Christianity and you should turn from it… if I tell you that the health and wealth prosperity gospel preached by men like Joel Osteen and women like Joyce Meyer is wrong and dangerous and you need to avoid anything written by or preached by such men or women… some of you will be offended. But listen again to Paul. He called them DOGS… he called them EVIL WORKERS… he called them those who MUTILATE. They mutilated the gospel by insisting on mutilating the flesh. And he said in no uncertain terms, BEWARE of them.
These guys preached a false gospel. They taught that something more than the work of Christ on the cross was needed for salvation. And that is a lie.
When Jesus Christ died on the cross, all my sins died with Him. So, too, did yours. What are you going to add to what He did there? What possible act of righteousness do you think can top that?
The answer is nothing. There is nothing to add to the finished work of Christ… no good works… no legalistic requirements for salvation… nothing. And those who teach otherwise are liars to be rejected.
He is WHAT you need. Nothing else matters.
Here is Paul’s main point. Jesus is the only thing that matters (vss. 3-8). He had trusted in other things before, but now he knew better. He had turned his back on everything but Jesus, trusting now in Christ alone by faith alone. Those things that seemed so worthy… that he had once trusted in… he now rejected completely. Likewise, you and I need to do the same – turn from anything and everything in which we might trust for our salvation, rejecting them as insufficient, and trusting in Christ alone by faith alone.
In vss. 4-6, Paul made the point that if there was ever a man who could be justified by his good works and his legalism, it was him. He was not bragging here, even though it might sound like it. Rather, he listed all these things in which he had once placed so much hope, only to point out that he no longer trusted in such things at all. He had once trusted in who he was and what he did. But no more.
Here is how Robert Lightner, in his commentary on Philippians, explained Paul’s reasons for having once trusted in who he was and what he did:
Seven advantages listed in Philippians 3:5–6 demonstrate what Paul used to have in the flesh but what he later counted as loss for Christ. Two kinds of advantages are enumerated. First are those things which the apostle had by birth, apart from his choice. Four of these are listed—circumcision, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, and a Hebrew son of Hebrew parents. Next he named those privileges which he voluntarily chose—being a Pharisee, being a persecutor of the church, and having a flawless external record of legalistic righteousness.
Circumcision was named first probably because it was a big issue with the Judaizers. Paul’s specific time, the eighth day, stressed that he was not a proselyte or an Ishmaelite but a pure-blooded Jew. Proselytes were circumcised later in life and Ishmaelites after age 13 (cf. Gen. 17:25–26).
Paul was of the people of Israel, which describes his heritage. His parents were both true Jews, unlike some of the Judaizers. He could trace his family lineage all the way back to Abraham. He was a true member of the covenant people (cf. 2 Cor. 11:22).
He was also a Benjamite, from which tribe came Israel’s first king (1 Sam. 9:1–2). This tribe had a special place of honor and was viewed with great esteem. Even after the kingdom was disrupted the tribe of Benjamin remained loyal to the house of David.
Hebrew was Paul’s native tongue. Unlike some of the Israelites, he did not adopt Greek customs. He knew thoroughly both the language and customs of the people of God. He was a Hebrew son of Hebrew parents.
In regard to the Law, Paul was a Pharisee, a member of the strictest sect among his people. In addition to the Law of Moses the Pharisees added their own regulations which in time were interpreted as equal to the Law.
What greater zeal for the Jewish religion could anyone boast of than that he persecuted the church? Paul did this relentlessly before his conversion to Christ (Acts 9:1–2). No Judaizer could match such zeal.
In “legalistic righteousness” Paul also excelled. In fact in his own eyes he was faultless (amemptos*; the same word is used in Phil. 2:15 where it is rendered “blameless”). (Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,”. ~Seven+advantages+lis) in *The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B.)
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ (Philippians 3:7 NKJV).
Boice says that the most important word in the entire third chapter of Philippians is that word “but” that introduces this verse. “That “but” marks Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus when Paul first saw Jesus and learned what God’s righteousness was.” (James Montgomery Boice, Philippians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 170.)
“I used to trust in who I was as a Jew, BUT, the things I trusted in then, I have turned away from… tossed away.”
I used to trust in my own good deeds and righteous life, BUT, I have counted all those things loss for Christ.”
Now I trust only in Christ and realize all those things I trusted in before are no better than rubbish (dung, KJV).
Not only is the word “but” important in this verse, but so too is that phrase “I have counted loss.” This phrase indicates a decision made in the past and still in effect in the present. He had made a decision in the past, and it was still his decision in the present. When did that decision occur for Paul? When he was still Saul of Tarsus, and met Jesus on the Damascus Road. He turned to Christ on that day, and He had never stopped trusting in Him.
I’ve been visiting with the members of this church all through 2019. I’m not talking about the normal hospital visits, or shut in visits, which are normally expected of a pastor. I’m talking about a systematic effort to visit with everyone who attends this church, for the purpose of understanding the pulse of this church. I’ve been asking questions, like “What could we be doing better as a church?” And one of the questions is particularly relevant to what Paul described here. I ask people to share their testimony with me. “Are you saved? How did you come to know the Lord?”
Some people, when they think through that question, respond with a date. “I was saved on the couch in my living room… I was 5 and my mother prayed with me and led me to Christ.” Others perhaps can’t remember the date, but do remember the event. “I was saved in youth group” or “I went forward during chapel at camp and gave my life to Christ.” Sometimes I get an answer like, “I don’t remember a time when I did not trust Christ… I’ve always been a Christian.” When I hear that one, I always probe a bit deeper, because nobody has “always been a Christian.” The Bible is clear that all of us are born lost and if we don’t turn to Christ we will die lost. Nobody is born a Christian. They need to be born again and BECOME a Christian. So I’ll probe and ask if they remember a time when they realized they were a sinner in need of the Savior… if they remember realizing their need and turning to Christ… if they remember such a turning point occurred, even if they don’t remember the exact date and time. If they can’t say “yes” to that, then they are lost and my approach turns to trying to lead them to Christ! But if they CAN say yes to that, my next question is usually, “And what are you trusting in now?” “Well, preacher, I’m still trusting in Christ!”
That was what Paul was saying here. “I met Jesus that day on the Damascus Road, turned away from everything else I had trusted in, and trusted in Him alone. And I’m still trusting in Him today!” He had made a decision in the past and it was still in effect in the present.
Can you say that? Can you say that there was a time when you trusted Christ, and that you are trusting Him and Him alone still today?
Notice the shift in values that Paul described in vs. 8. His past had included so much that we would say had value… so many good works that we would praise him for… so much desire to serve God… so much patriotic and religious fervor that we would admire. But when He met Jesus, he realized those things had ZERO value when compared to Him.
Before meeting Jesus, he had kept a list of all the things he trusted in. Perhaps he had a sheet of paper with that at the top – things I trust to get me to heaven. The list was long. But then he met Jesus and when he looked at the list, he crossed out that heading “things I trust to get me to heaven” and wrote the word “RUBBISH” instead. He created a new column on the page entitled “the ONE I trust to get me to heaven” and underneath that new heading he wrote, “Jesus alone.”
Read vss. 8-9 again. You might want to underline them in your Bible. One commentator (James Montgomery Boice) called vs. 9 a summary of the entire book of Romans, “for it deals with the heart of salvation in one verse.” My righteousness, no matter how good I think I may be, is not sufficient. (As Billy Graham mentioned last week, we simply don’t weigh enough!) The only righteousness that IS sufficient is Christ’s righteousness which is imputed to us by faith. My sins were imputed to Him and His righteousness was imputed to me when I knelt at that cross.
All the righteousness I thought I had before (vss. 4-6) is not what I trust now. I now know that my righteousness comes only through faith in Christ. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 NKJV)
Isaac Watts sang of these truths:
No more, my God, I boast no more
Of all the duties I have done;
I quit the hopes I held before,
To trust the merits of thy Son.
Now, for the love I bear his name,
What was my gain I count my loss;
My former pride I call my shame,
And nail my glory to his cross.
Yes, and I must and will esteem
All things but loss for Jesus’ sake:
O may my soul be found in him,
And of his righteousness partake!
The best obedience of my hands
Dares not appear before thy throne;
But faith can answer thy demands
By pleading what my Lord has done.
To find Christ is to find the only thing that matters. To find Christ is to find the One whose value surpasses that of anything else in this world. To find Christ is to find everything. Jesus mentioned this truth in a parable – Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44 NKJV)
He is worth giving up everything else for… He is worth tossing aside all other means of reaching God, and trusting in Him alone.
As we ponder these truths, we need to consider some questions:
First – how is your joy? It’s only found in the Lord, and so if you’re joyless, I encourage you to seek Him today. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. It’s there that you’ll find your joy.
Second – what are you trusting in? Are you trusting in who you are, as Paul did? Are you trusting in what you’ve done or what you do, as Paul did? For I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done – it’s all rubbish… garbage… dung, as far as its value in getting you to heaven. Are you trusting in Jesus Christ alone, by faith alone? That’s the ONLY THING THAT MATTERS and the only way you’ll ever see heaven.
Acts 27 is one of the most exciting parts of the Bible, for it tells in thrilling fashion of the shipwrecked voyage Paul endured on his way to Rome. His ship was beset at sea by a storm of immense intensity, and the ship was going to be lost. It’s a great picture, isn’t it, of the life without Christ? Without Him you are going to be lost. Without Him you are sinking… you are going down! There was a moment when the crew realized they needed to get rid of some stuff. And because we were exceedingly tempest-tossed, the next day they lightened the ship. On the third day we threw the ship’s tackle overboard with our own hands (Acts 27:18-19 NKJV). Stuff they had thought they needed to navigate the sea were now seen as useless. These things could not save them. So they threw them off the ship.
Likewise, I challenge you this day to stop trusting in what cannot save you. Throw it overboard, and start today to trust the only One who CAN save you. Trusting Jesus. It’s the only thing that matters.
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live. (Getty, Keith and Townsend, Stuart, “In Christ Alone”)